J Barbush calls himself a writer by trade. When he joined RPA 17 years ago he would write the brand stories that some people at the Santa Monica, CA-based agency didn’t want to write. Recently promoted to VP and director of creative social media for the integrated agency, Barbush (left) said he still focuses on “being a listener” and he tries to install that approach throughout his team.
“You always need to take a step back. Think about it, think about how you feel about it as a reader,” he said. “Yes, we could do this. Do you care? Would you care?” Barbush oversees creative social media campaigns for RPA’s full client roster including Honda, ARCO, Farmers Insurance Group, and Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. ClickZ spoke with him last week after he was heads down in a Honda campaign that involved local band Monsters Calling Home getting a special musical guest spot on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last Wednesday.
The idea for the campaign really came out of nowhere. Someone within the agency discovered that the band recently shot a music video inside their Honda vehicles and the message eventually found its way to Barbush. “It would have been easy for us to click, like, or repost it,” he said. “We thought this was a really great opportunity.”
A Honda-branded video that tells the story of the band and its road to the late night talk show has been viewed nearly 1.3 million times.
The story also follows Barbush’s passion for finding authentic, regular people that can become a spokespeople of sorts for the brand. “It really is about promoting this regular person with a lot of passion… When people see it, their passion comes through,” he said.
“They all come out of the story itself. We kind of stumble upon these stories. It’s not a brief with a band saying, let’s make them famous,” he said. “We’re not looking at a campaign, but more of this overall thematic thing that we’re going to carry on for awhile.”
A different tone is expected in social media, Barbush said. “Once you go in the direction where you fake it, there’s no going back. It’s like you’re done, you lost it,” he added. “With social media there’s an expectation there of truth and giving something that feels real… It’s a little too touchy-feely for regular advertising metrics to quantify.”
To highlight Honda as an every-person brand, Barbush said he and his team understand that they need to create an environment where people feel comfortable telling their stories and confident that people will be listening.
“When people hear a good story, they involve themselves in it a little bit,” he said. “It’s almost like a chemical reaction in the brain with people… It’s really hard in traditional advertising to do that or have that effect.”
How RPA finds these stories is an evolution in and of itself. With its recent “First Honda” campaign, Barbush’s team began by taking pictures of old cars at the American Honda Museum in Torrance, CA. Eventually his team set their sights on the first Honda ever sold in the United States, the Honda N600.
After contacting Tim Mings, the man who restored the N600 at the museum, Barbush’s five-person film crew discovered that he owned the first N600 sold in the U.S., serial No. 1. Hence, “First Honda.” “We like to do a fan milestone, and also a brand milestone. We like to put them together,” Barbush added. “We want to have things that stick, but we want an emotional or joyous connection to them and to their lives and how they see it.”
Barbush said he appreciates the deeper relationships brands can foster with consumers in social, but he’s equally cognizant of the pitfalls and instant turn-offs. “Just because I’ve shown that I like you, I’m not letting you openly market me and throw me on the email list and hit me with a barrage of advertising,” he said.
“I think a lot of people are looking at how they can apply the old model of advertising into this new social media model, and I think that’s where a lot of these missteps are happening. The worlds will connect, but not now,” he said.
“I think it will connect with the mother ship eventually,” Barbush said.